Everything You Need to Know About Tang Fish

Posted by Stacey Venzel

The saltwater tang is as bold as it is beautiful.

Tangs are not shy creatures. They are named for their pointed tails that resemble a tang scalpel, using it as self-defense when threatened in their natural coral reef habitat. For this reason, they are nicknamed “surgeonfish.”

These popular fish are brazen enough not only to fight, but also to swim along with large creatures, chomping on the plant growth of a sea turtle’s shell. While they are omnivores, tangs mostly maintain a vegetarian diet, grazing on algae and reef plants or occasionally small invertebrates and fish.

Tangs are smart and have been likened to dogs for their ability to notice when their owner is at the tank.

Eighty species of brightly-colored tang inhabit the oceans. They are typically small and thin, but the largest species can reach a length of one meter! Their average life span is 25-30 years. Common saltwater aquarium tang species include the yellow tang (Zebrasoma flavescens), blue tang (Paracanthurus hepatus) and powder blue tang (Acanthurus leucosternon), clown tang (Acanthurus lineatus), convict tang (Acanthurus triostegus), naso tang (Naso lituratus), Achilles tang (Acanthurus achilles), kole tang (Ctenochaetus strigosus), purple tang (Zebrasoma xanthurus), powder brown tang (Acanthurus japonicus), Red Sea sailfin tang (Zebrasoma desjardinii), and many more with different coloring and markings. Some do better than others in a tank setting so be sure to do your research!

Tangs require a large tank for ample swimming space so tank size is important. A minimum of 150 gallons is recommended. Live rock in the tank can create a symbiotic relationship with tangs, filtering the water while providing substrate for algal growth, this saltwater fish’s favorite food.

Hover over the image for more information.

Mouth

Tangs' narrow mouths are perfectly made for picking off algae.

Tail

The sharp tail is used for self-defense and earns them their name, after a tang scalpel.

Length

Typically, Tangs range from 6 to 12 inches in length.

Skin

Tangs have a natural slimy coating on their body that can accumulate bacterial diseases easily.

Coloration

The most typical coloration is blue, yellow and black but other hues include orange and white.

Body image: Fish Keeping Advice

Fun fact: Dory from “Finding Nemo” and “Finding Dory” is a tang fish!

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Everything You Need to Know About Tang Fish